Now, rhino protectors on poacher hit list

Five accused in Esob Ali killing still at large; conservationists allege poacher-cop nexus

Activist Nurul Islam gets death threat

By Our Staff Reporter

Guwahati, Oct 28: Blame it on the laxity of the Forest department or the iction of police, poachers are not only killing rhinos at will, they are now openly giving death threats to activists assisting rhino conservation and protection.

Two months after killing Esob Ali - a poacher-turned Forest department collaborator - a poaching gang has now threatened to kill his associate too, who has been helping the Forest department track down rhino killers in and around Pobitora wildlife sanctuary.

Nurul Islam yesterday lodged a written complaint with the officer-in-charge of Mayong police station, ming seven people who have been giving him death threats since the last few days.

Six of the seven accused are those med by police as guilty in the murder of Esob Ali.

For fifteen years, Md Esob Ali, after giving up poaching, had assisted forest and police officials with vital intelligence on movements of poachers, their arms and ammunition. His tip-offs helped save countless rhinos in and around the pristine sanctuary - known to have the highest density of one-horned rhinos in the world.

Esob was tailed for weeks and on August 21 night this year, he was hacked to death by a group of unknown men at Kukuwari in Mayong.  Before succumbing to his injuries, Esob had given a statement to police ming the culprits who attacked him.

Two months after the incident, police could arrest only one - Md Mohidul Islam - of the six accused in Esob's murder.

According to the investigation report available with The Sentinel, charges were framed against six people - Md Alom Ali, Md Hann Ali, Md Khalek Ali, Md Sahed Ali and Md Sabu Ali besides Md Mohidul Islam.

Locals say all the accused are known faces in the Mayong area. Some of them had also served jail terms in the past. But despite having information, Mayong police has failed to b the culprits, raising many an eyebrow.

Emboldened by police iction, the same gang has now issued threats Esob's partner Nurul Islam. Nurul now fears to venture out of his house at night.

Nurul and Esob were among the group of 18-20 poachers persuaded by the then Range officer of Pabitora, Mrigen Barua, to give up poaching in 1997-98 and help the park magement in protecting rhinos. About 17 rhino poachers surrendered along with Esob.

After reforming themselves, Nurul and Esob never went back to poaching. Rather they assisted enforcement agencies to check poaching in and around Pabitora WLS. Some of the surrendered poachers went back to poaching again after a few years. But Esob and Nurul remained loyal to the cause of rhino protection.

In fact, Nurul had recently helped foil a poaching attack at Pobitora when he alerted Forest guards about the movement of poachers.

Conservationists and environmentalists are surprised at the police iction, while some suspect a nexus between the poachers and a section of policemen.

"Unless such people like Esob and Nurul are protected, you can never expect the rhino protection campaign to be a success. Local villagers and past poachers are key informers of the Forest department. If you do not safeguard them, you cannot expect others like Esob and Nurul to help the department," said an official of the Forest department.

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